My visit to the so-called ‘occupied West Bank’ in November 2017 has taken me some time to get ‘down on paper’. I just haven’t managed to find the time to do it.
I was staying with a with a friend in Jerusalem who, when I mentioned I’d be interested in seeing Bethlehem, asked me if I’d like to visit Ramallah. She told me she had a Christian Arab friend living in Ramallah, who would be happy to take me.
As you can imagine I really had doubts. I told her I was rather sceptical about it. A neighbour of hers, an ex-policeman, told me it would be quite safe to do so.
So early one morning, actually two days before leaving Israel, with some slight trepidation ..we set off to a meeting place just outside of Bethlehem..
We drove straight into the “Occupied West Bank”. There were no checkpoints. No Occupation forces.
No passports or IDs to be shown.
Funny thing that, considering all the leftist rubbish we hear about them!
My friend ‘dropped’ me at Beit Jala just outside Bethlehem, to meet up with the Christian Arab young man, who I will call Ibrahim and who lives in Ramallah.
Beit Jala is a Palestinian Christian town about 10 km south of Jerusalem in the ‘Occupied West Bank’.
We met at what is a stopping point for tourists. There was a large restaurant and an enormous gift shop selling Christian souvenirs, many made of wood. The smell was beautiful. This is a photo of it, but not one I took. Actually it was very similar to one I went into in Nazareth.
Ibrahim/Ibby, turned out to be a delightful young man, who had fled from Gaza. He had not seen his parents for a few years, as he is now unable to go to Gaza. He had been training for the priesthood but gave it up to pursue other vocational options. In fact, two days after our ‘outing’ he was off to England to interview for Oxford University and then over to the USA to interview for another.
I was surprised, knowing he wasn’t too well off financially. I asked how he could possibly afford it. I was taken aback..
“Well, I am a ‘Palestinian‘ and can have anything I want” … (with sarcasm.)
It was only a very short drive into Bethlehem proper. Ibby parked the car and we walked to Manger Square. Surprisingly, like just about all the cars I saw, was a late model car. Certainly not ancient beat up vehicles I was expecting, as we are led to believe. As we walked I bristled somewhat when he warned me not to mention Israel in public, or even to mention the fact I was Jewish.
We didn’t want to spend long Bethlehem as we were anxious to go to Jericho and Ramallah.
Like on my visit to Nazareth, with another Christian Arab friend, I learnt of the rapidly shrinking Christian populations in what were Christian towns. The Christian population of the birthplace of Jesus, is a mere 30% Christian, the same as Nazareth. I imagine, the same as I heard in Nazareth,that Christians are being offered very high prices for their properties by Muslims. I was told they were being Islamised.
There was a high Palestinian Authority police presence in Bethlehem due to a number of official visitors in the area at an event at the Bethlehem Peace Centre. Certainly no Israeli military personnel to interrogate us though.
The small town was old and grubby. Dry and dusty, the only thing of interest was the obligatory Palestinian key on a roundabout.
First of all we went to the Church of the Nativity, which is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, it is undergoing very much needed massive renovations and there is scaffolding everywhere.
I found the church interesting and it was a branch of Christianity I hadn’t thought it would be, Eastern Orthodox. My Jewish mind only thought of what I know of Christianity and it looked very much like the Greek Orthodox churches I’d been to.. very ornate.
Going in there was some of the original was floor exposed under the existing one. The reason is was covered is that the original floor has crosses on it and at some point in time it was considered irreverent to walk on crosses.
We didn’t stay long as the church was extremely crowded. It was really hard to see much with scaffolding everywhere.
Leaving the Church we had a short, very short walk around old Bethlehem.
In the foreground you see some rubbish which Arabs throw everywhere. They have no regard for property or the environment. What you don’t see is what I made sure couldn’t be seen behind a wall, a pile of stinking burning rubbish, which made me choke.
The road to Jericho.
I commented on the amazing roads in Judaea and Samaria, to be told “That’s thanks to Israel”
Jericho I loved as I am somewhat of a history buff. Looking at the digs and the walls unearthed, I couldn’t help think about Joshua blowing his trumpet and the walls tumbling down.
Driving into the main street in Jericho, where we had falafel.
Tell es-Sultan – Jericho, is in the lower plain of the Jordan Valley, approximately 10 kilometres north of the Dead Sea.
It’s 250 metres below sea level and dates back to the Neolithic Period, which ended between 4500 and 2000 BCE. It is the oldest and lowest town on earth.
It’s close to the spring of Ein es-Sultan. With good soil which is very suitable for agriculture.
The views were stunning. I should have taken my camera rather than using my phone, because photos didn’t come out too well as I couldn’t see. It wasn’t as windy as this video would have you believe.
On to Ramallah.
Again magnificent roads, but I was dismayed at the piles of tyres frequently along the side of the road. Ibby told me that the Arabs pile them for the next attack on the IDF, so they are always ready.
Driving into the centre of Ramallah, I was witness to a demonstration against the government for the high cost of mobile telephone services. The traffic jam was very bad. I voiced my surprise and the answer received was very unexpected .
“We are allowed to demonstrate we are a democracy”
“Demonstrate/democracy?” The Palestinian Authority?
I am still trying to work out the significance of the man up a pole on this monument. It’s in the middle of Ramallah, so surely it wasn’t meant to show someone trying to take down the flag??
Basically the shopping area of Ramallah, if that was the main one, was old, but you will see in the videos there were many new buildings out of the central business areas.
Driving around, we drove past the Palestinian Legislative Council building.
Some of the shops look very old fashioned, but then there are other shops selling up market brand name cosmetics and clothes. Brand names you know and see everywhere in the world.
We had lunch in a very nice medium size restaurant. Mothers with babies. Family groups. Mixed gender couples. It was like you’d see anywhere. Some girls wearing hijabs and others not.
I went to see an apartment that Ibby and a friend were looking to rent. The outside of the building was old looking, but the apartment was very nice and modern inside. Surprisingly low rent too. Though I can’t say the view from the balcony of a rubbish heap was inspiring.
Cars and vehicles generally were late models and nicely kept. I was also quite surprised at the high number of UNRWA cars on the roads .
Guess what? There was no illegal occupation, no mistreatment, no shortage of food, no apartheid and the shops were full of all the same brands of consumer goods we have in any country and high end products too. All late model cars and many of those were luxury ones. Beautiful new high rise buildings and more.
Lots of shops selling sweets, cakes and chocolates.
Driving around Ramallah, a refugee camp was pointed out to me and I was told it was too dangerous for me to go into it.
I saw murals on walls around the streets glorifying ‘martyrs’ and their ‘good’ deeds.
Palestinian Arabs consider this to be temporary burial site, until they can move the corpse to Jerusalem, pending the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Then his body would be transferred to the Dome of the Rock compound on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is not the original tomb. That was deemed not be big or grand enough, so this larger tomb, designed by Palestinian Arab architects was built and opened to the public in 11 November 2007.
The message on the tomb indicates that the final resting place of Arafat will be in Jerusalem, when it comes under Palestinian control. It is also facing Jerusalem.
The mausoleum is made of glass and Jerusalem stone. It is surrounded on three sides by water. A piece of rail track is entombed underneath the grave.
The meaning of the water and piece of track are meant to symbolise that the grave is temporary.
The three flags outside the mausoleum signify the number of funerals that Arafat has had so far – in France, Egypt and ‘Palestine’. No doubt where they hope the fourth will be.!
Certainly a huge amount of money has been spent on the entire area. We were going to the museum, it was getting late and I was exhausted, when I received a phone call to say that I needed to get back to Jerusalem.
I went back into Israel on public transport.
There were people on the bus of various nationalities. I spoke with an Arab who lived in Tel Aviv. I sat next to a nice young Arab girl who was studying engineering at an Israeli university. We had a very good chat and she told me that she wished she could live in Israel.
There was a great deal of traffic in the ‘rush hour’. The queues at the security checkpoint to enter Jerusalem were huge and I wondered how long it would take to get through. However the bus went into a side road, where we went through quickly.
At the security checkpoint, two soldiers got on the bus. There was a passport check, no beatings, no interrogation from the ‘occupation force’, nothing and we went on our way. My passport received an odd look. Probably they thought I was some no good leftist.!
There certainly appears no issue with foreigners entering the so-called West Bank, because on the journey there were a number of us non-Arab visitors, including 4 young British female backpackers.
Certainly I saw no Apartheid as suggested by many Israel haters. The only Apartheid I saw was against Israelis near Jericho.
All three towns really looked nothing spectacular. I’m not really sure what I expected. I am told though that there are huge mansions in Ramallah. Possibly I would have seen more if I’d only gone to Ramallah. Quick visits to all 3 was not a good move.
All in all I had an interesting but very tiring day.